News Feature | March 22, 2019

Florida Lawmakers Want To Increase Sewage Overflow Penalties

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

A politician in Florida thinks he has a new solution that will curb untreated sewage spills in the state: increasing the penalties for those responsible.

Randy Fine, a Republican in Florida’s House of Representatives, has taken up the mantle, arguing that local governments would have more power to curb sewage spills if the penalties were stronger.

“2.7 billion. What is that number? That is the number of raw sewage that has been put into our waterways over the last 10 years,” Fine said during a recent press conference, apparently referring to the number of gallons of untreated wastewater that has spilled into local waterways, according to WLRN. “That means once every three hours in the state of Florida raw sewage was being put into our water that is a fundamental responsibility of our local government to fix and not fixing it is simply unacceptable.”

Specifically, Fine’s proposed bill would require wastewater treatment facilities to notify the public whenever illegal wastewater discharges occur, and to include the names and phone numbers of the authorities responsible for the facility. It would also implement a $2 fine for every gallon of raw sewage released — potentially motivating facilities to upgrade their systems in order to avoid these penalties.

Fine cited Hurricane Irma as one major event that has stoked his ire against the current state of wastewater spills in Florida. The storm, which struck Florida in 2017 and killed 134 people, also had major sewage spill implications.

“Ask any meteorologist how long Hurricane Irma lasted in 2017 and they’ll tell you three days,” Fine told Florida’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, as reported by Sunshine State News. “But in Brevard County, it lasted 35 days. For 30 days and nights, 24/7, raw sewage was running into the Indian River Lagoon. That’s 22 million gallons.”

Fine also said that the Brevard County Commission spent $14.5 million in tax dollars for non-essential items during those 35 days, rather than repairing wastewater system infrastructure.

While the proposed bill has gotten some traction among Florida lawmakers so far, it’s not clear if or when the stricter penalties will be implemented, nor how much of a real impact on wastewater overflow they would have. In the meantime, it is clear that Florida is dealing with some very real wastewater problems.

“Several environmental groups are threatening to sue [Sarasota County] for dumping hundreds of millions of gallons of treated wastewater for years, in turn polluting local waterways and jeopardizing the public’s health, if the jurisdiction fails to clean up its act,” according to the Herald-Tribune, reporting on just one local example of major untreated wastewater spills.

To read more about how wastewater facilities deal with wastewater overflow, visit Water Online’s Stormwater Management Solutions Center.